Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Beginnings and Endings: A Bern Retrospective Part 2

SPOILER ALERT! DON’T READ THESE RETROSPECTIVES UNLESS YOU’VE FINISHED THE BERN SAGA.

There are a ton of themes in the four books comprising the Bern Saga, but two of them stand above the rest. The first is the use of cycles, of repeated actions, of going ’round and ’round even as things change. The second is the nature of Free Will. I’ll tackled Free Will in my next retrospective. For now, let’s look at the many ways that things (especially people) move in circles. What we’ll see is that these two major themes of mine are intimately related.

Each book is meant to be cyclic. The first book begins with Molly and Cole in a cockpit, and the epilogue concludes the same way: with them puzzling over an enigma in their ship’s computer. The second and penultimate scenes take place in the Academy, with Molly’s conversations with Lucin standing out as key in both places (and her perspective greatly changed).

In Land of Light, the cycle begins with Parsona giving birth in the commons of a Lokian village as Molly is born into the arms of Byrne. Later in the book, the ship Parsona settles to the same grass. Her “belly opens”, and Molly emerges into Byrne’s hands once more. In this way, Molly and her mother traveled far only to arrive in a state similar to a prior one. And further, there is also a lot of language in the prologue that references the eventual condition of Parsona’s body on Dakura, giving her a series of cycles. Flipping between the scene of Molly’s birth and Parsona’s physical death is very revealing. I urge interested readers to check it out.

Over the series as a whole, I wanted to make sure that places discovered were revisited. It was important to show the effects of time on each culture and place. Through back stories, and the plan to rid the galaxy of the Bern, we travel back to Earth, Darrin, Drenard, and Palan. Look at the Wadi’s story, which is the most overtly cyclical: the creature travels and grows, becomes pregnant, then returns to its former place and state. Or Anlyn, who begins her story in a dance of two ships, one trying to lock to the other, only to have her life swing on a similar┬árendezvous┬ámany years later. Walter begins his story working to repair a machine and save his mother, then ends with the destruction of another machine and him unwittingly killing her. His description of the food cart in the next scene really spells this out.

Why is all this important? It won’t become clear until we discuss my ideas on Free Will, and how that philosophy shapes the entire series, but I will point out one more interesting tidbit. Look at how the titles of each book describe every scene throughout the story, but is only meant to reference the epilogue, that part of the book that stands apart from the rest.

In THE PARSONA RESCUE, we have many sections that could stand to represent that title: We have Molly’s rescue from her dull and dreary life by the discovery of the starship Parsona. Here, the question becomes: who is rescuing whom? In the next section, Molly rescues Parsona from Palan. In the following section, she rescues her from deconstruction at the hands of the Glemots. A section later, it is Anlyn rescuing Parsona (and being rescued by her). But the actual intent of the title is spelled out clearly by the epilogue, where Molly rescues her mother’s memories from the ship’s computer. In LAND OF LIGHT, her mom points this out when she tells Molly that this is when she truly rescued her.

LAND OF LIGHT follows this pattern. It begins with a race along starlight plasma being sucked into a black hole. Then comes the adventures on the lit half of Drenard. On Dakura, the next adventure, Walter is cut off when he nearly calls the simulated heaven a “Land of Light” due to the nature of the storage medium: pulses of light in fiber optic cables coiled up in barrels. The real answer, of course, is in the epilogue as Cole and Riggs are stranded in hyperspace, where augmented photons are blinding.

BLOOD OF BILLIONS was called too bloody by one Amazon reviewer, but it had to be. Each major section is defined by the spilling of it, the sight of it, the taking of it. In the end, the actual reference is to the unseen lives the Bern Seer struggled with harming as she coped with the eventual closing of hyperspace.

FIGHT FOR PEACE is my favorite of the four books, and precisely because of this naming convention. The fight referenced is not the struggle against the Bern; it is the internal struggle each major character goes through. In the end, it focuses especially on Campton, the great Glemot who engineered the destruction of his entire people. But, like all the books before it, the title refers to each section as well. I think it bears mentioning several cases individually:

The Wadi’s struggle is to prevent the cycle of life and death that defines its species, the growing and shrinking (an exaggeration of the human condition), that leads from one generation to the next. This is its fight for peace, which it resolves when it decides to move to Molly’s lure, leaving the confines of its warren as the animal is drawn to the scent of another in healthy love. The Wadi’s story is resolved with her death and the birth of her brood.

Walter’s fight revolves around his mother, his need to be loved, and his pattern of hurting those he does love. It begins with his mom hooked to her machines, it passes through Molly’s life, and his rough and callous unplugging of another’s mom from her machines. It ends when he hotwires a ship’s cargo bay, giving up his life to save Molly’s. For a boy who never considers the consequences of his actions, who is defined by his selfishness, this decision is his eventual triumph over a long and brutal fight for peace.

Look at Anlyn’s struggle: to find requiting love, to cope with her gender and all the political limitations it poses, to conquer her fears from the Wadi rite, her time on Darrin, and her slavery under Albert’s thumb. Then there’s Cole’s fight to be able to protect the one he loves after failing his mother and his first crush. There’s his fight to cope with his career in the military after a rough childhood hounded by the law. Above all, there’s his fight to discover truth amid all the conspiracy theories he sees swirling all around him, spurred by his time with the Church.

Edison’s fight is represented by Campton’s. It is the destruction of their species in order to save many others. In FIGHT FOR PEACE, the parallel between the Glemot race and the Human race is made clear through Cat’s conversation with Molly. If Campton and Edison were right to conspire against their race to save so much other life, were the Bern correct to try and extinguish mankind to preserve future universes? I hope the issue seems unresolved, for I believe it is unresolvable. It is only with the re-greening of Glemot that Campton finds solace from his eternal and internal struggles with his decision.

Molly, of course, is searching for family and a place to belong. She is searching for a life of meaning, of purpose. These two sets of struggles are partly resolved on Lok, as the galaxy is saved and she is reunited with her family just beyond her home village commons. It is a hollow victory, however, as she continues to fret over the threat of the Bern in the rest of the universe and deals with the loss of both her father and mother. It is the trip to Glemot where her final battles in this great war take place. She finds her family in the one she makes with Cole, as they have their fist child (this is the same truth the Wadi eventually discovers). And she finds her home in the beautiful place she thought she destroyed: lush Glemot, the place where she once idled in the grass, looking out over a lake, dreaming of staying there with Cole, of being married, having kids, and living in a treehouse by the water…